Friday, September 28, 2007

Ravens Make Adjustments While Browns' Fans Wail Away


During last Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, Devard Darling jumped into the crowd, joining Yamon Figurs who had just returned a punt for a 75 yard score. The momentary leap of reasoning cost the Ravens 15 yards and it will now cost Darling $7,500. I’m all for Roger Goodell’s swift and heavy hand as part of an effort to keep the game clean but this is flat out ridiculous. The NFL’s Big Brother needs to take a chill pill. If I’m Darling, I’d appeal then watch every touchdown scored in Lambeau Field for the next few weeks. You know what I mean?

I ran into some friends last night that I hadn’t seen in awhile. One asked if I follow the Orioles the way that I do the Ravens. Of course that is next to impossible. That’s not to say I’m not a fan – I am. But the team lost me about a month into the season. Occasionally I will look at the box scores and lately, the O’s lineup looks very unfamiliar. If they rubbed out the word “Orioles” from the box score, I would think that it was an old Montreal Expos lineup. There are so many names that I’m not familiar with it’s almost embarrassing.

Something else that is pretty embarrassing which I read about in the fine print notes of The Sun yesterday in the section covering the O’s. It made me laugh the way you might laugh at someone who has slipped on the ice after you realize they aren’t hurt.

In the notes sections, The Sun reported that former Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie is now the current Interim Bullpen Manager for the Florida Marlins. Interim Bullpen Manager? Not many of those jobs around...No worries there Mike Flanagan. I hear the Royals might have a similar position opening shortly, on an interim basis of course. And who said that Pete Angelos couldn’t guide a career path in baseball? At the end of the day, the only thing Angelos is concerned with is the register tally. Ch-ching!

Speaking of ch-ching, in a recent Forbes ranking of the richest Americans, Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti ranks 380th with a net worth of $1.3 billion, up $200 million from last year. That’s the good news. The bad news for Bisciotti is that he’s slipped 26 spots. Last year he was ranked No. 354. Don't worry for Steve. I hear he still sleeps ok at night.

Some Ravens fans have been losing sleep over concerns that their favorite team can’t control a no-huddle offense. Many are pointing fingers at the secondary yet there’s plenty of blame to go around. The Ravens failed to mount a threatening pass rush late in games and the three and five step drops accompanied by the quick releases of Kellen Clemens and Kurt Warner kept the Ravens secondary on their heels.

Ronnie Prude was consistently a step behind, Ed Reed was pretty irrelevant and the normally sure tackling Dawan Landry was trucked by Anquan Boldin. Outside of Chris McAlister the only member of the secondary to make any plays was the diminutive Corey Ivy.

Ivy flat out competes on every play throughout the duration of the play. Despite being beaten by Larry Fitzgerald, Ivy fought until the whistle and his combativeness led to a third quarter strip of Fitzgerald. Ivy is tough as nails and will never quit. He’s a very good nickel but just an average corner. That said (and I may be in the minority here) I think Ivy had a very solid game on Sunday and I expect him to compete equally as hard against the Browns.

I’m not Rex Ryan and Lord knows none of you want me to be, but if I was Rex, I’d lean towards David Pittman at corner this week and put Ivy back in his traditional nickel role. Either way I have a hunch that Ivy will make another impact play on the toxic turf along Lake Erie.

One year after making his first Pro Bowl appearance, Bart Scott is no longer flying under the radar of opposing teams’ offensive coordinators. Scott hasn’t put down a QB in five consecutive games and in order to end that streak, he and Rex Ryan might have to make a few adjustments.

"I haven't been doing as much blitzing, a little more covering and swiping and things like that," Scott said. "But who knows? It's a long season, so we'll see where it goes.

"It's what's best for the team. Right now, I'm hot. I've got a little bit of a bull's-eye on my chest. Why not take advantage?"

Sliding protection towards Scott could be one reason why defensive backs blitzing off the edge have accounted for four of the team’s six sacks.

The Ravens will make their way to Cleveland on Saturday, a business trip that the players don’t particularly care for unless of course they are free agents and Phil Savage lures them with millions. Bart Scott nearly became a Cleveland Brown during the 2006 offseason yet he claims, “I was only going there for a free steak.”

Cleveland and Baltimore might always have a connection much like Baltimore and Indianapolis. But let’s face it, Cleveland has nothing to complain about in the grand scheme of things and many of their fans and political figure heads come off as nothing but a collection of sourpuss crybabies. Go ahead, cry us another glow in the dark lake.

No one ties Jim Brown or Otto Graham or Bernie Kosar or Leroy Kelly to the Ravens. Those are Cleveland’s football heroes just as Johnny U, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry and Bert Jones are football heroes of Baltimore. The difference, something very obvious to Baltimoreans and not so obvious to Clevelanders is that they are still the Browns. They still dress in harvest colors and look like a collection of candy corn running around in their burnt orange, white and brown. They held on to their name and colors (thankfully), their absence from the NFL was just three seasons, tax payer dollars didn’t have to pay for their stadium nor do they have to pay for PSL’s. Plus they got rid of the unfairly vilified Art Modell.

Maybe they are just consumed by their team’s years of ineptness and can’t see things clearly through the crocodile tears. They just don’t get it.

But then again, maybe I don’t get it. I don’t have to live in Cleveland and perhaps that’s the root of their seemingly perpetual wailing like a baby that has lost its binky.

Boo-Hoo!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ravens Have Concerns as They Prepare for Browns


There are some concerns in Owings Mills about Samari Rolle and the amount of time he may miss as he battles an undisclosed illness and the side effects of prescribed medication that have left him in a state of lethargy. Yesterday he was ruled “out” for the Ravens showdown at Browns Stadium.

While the team had no reservations disclosing that doctors are trying to find the right balance of medication for Rolle, citing privacy issues they’ve chosen not to reveal what illness the prescription drugs are trying to combat. Some sources close to the team have insinuated that the illness is serious while others believe that with a little rest Rolle will soon be occupying the Ravens’ defensive corner opposite Chris McAlister.

Meanwhile, filling in for the recovering Rolle once again is Corey Ivy. It’s interesting that the Ravens plugged in David Pittman during the preseason game against the Redskins this summer when they played with house money, yet they are obviously hesitant to do so when the regular season chips are down. Ivy is much better suited for the nickel role. Plus he will give away no less than 7 inches to the receiver he mans up on this Sunday. Braylon Edwards stands at 6’3” while Joe Jurevicius stands at 6’5”. Ivy hovers at 5’8”. Ivy could stay with either receiver stride for stride yet still be unable to match up effectively due to physical limitations.

As for Pittman (slight ankle injury), teammates have expressed confidence in him in the past yet apparently the coaching staff sees things a bit differently. Prude looks to be the nickel this week again despite being outplayed during camp by Pittman and fellow second year corner Derrick Martin. Moving Ivy from the nickel weakens the defense in two areas.

The Ravens will see a very familiar face on Sunday when they line up across from the Browns’ No. 31. That of course is Jamal Lewis. Lewis still holds himself in high regard and continues to believe that he is among the game’s elite backs. The Ravens speak highly of Jamal as a former teammate, friend and a back who contributed greatly to the Ravens offense. But when the referee winds up his arm to start the game clock, all bets are off and the Ravens will treat Lewis no differently than any other back.

Clearly Lewis has something to prove but his running style isn’t exactly the style that has the potential to give the Ravens’ stout run defense a test. Runners with excellent vision and the ability to make quick reads and cuts towards the backside of the Ravens’ defensive pursuit are the backs that can test the Ravens. Lewis’ style doesn’t fit that description. One only needs to look at last year’s game tape to quickly conclude that. That said, expect a highly motivated Lewis to be a bit too eager and put the ball on the carpet at some point on Sunday.

Earlier this week Brian Billick defended his handling of the quarterback situation against the Cardinals and hinted that he wouldn’t hesitate to do the same going forward as long as Steve McNair has lingering effects of that sore groin muscle. It’s an interesting situation for sure. Give Billick credit for making the move this past Sunday when he did. But you have to wonder, why not just go with Boller until McNair’s injury is fully healed? Such an injury can seemingly feel fine during practice but in practice you don’t test the muscles fully. The competitive burst that a player digs down for when live bullets are flying, tests the muscle much more than the cruise control tempo of practice.

Back in March of 2005 Gary Baxter left the Ravens to join the Browns after signing a six year deal worth $30 million, $10.5 million of that total in the form of guaranteed money. You may recall that the Ravens wanted Baxter to consider a move to safety. Baxter and his agent resisted the suggested change knowing that unless your name is Ed Reed, safeties are generally paid a lot less than corners.

So off went Baxter to Cleveland where in two plus injury-riddled seasons, the former Raven has played in a grand total of eight games contributing 44 tackles and 3 interceptions. Baxter took a pay cut in 2007 dropping his salary from $3.5 million to $1.5 million and voiding the last three years on his original six year deal. Ironically he is now listed as a back-up on the Browns depth chart behind Sean Jones – at strong safety.

Fans seemed to be much more concerned about the Ravens than the Ravens themselves. After two consecutive wins at home, fans left The Vault with a less than enthusiastic feeling over their team’s back-to-back fourth quarter meltdowns.

"There's a constant critique," Billick said. "Where were we wrong? Where were we right? Why did you do this? Why did you do that? At the end of the day, I'm not going to let the team forget we won the two games and we are now 50-1 with a 14-point lead."

History has nothing to do with what a team does on any given Sunday. The two are mutually exclusive and while Billick’s record with a lead is impressive, it means nothing when his secondary is being treated like fragments of fruit in a juicer.

"It's not something that we like to do every week," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "But as long as we walk away with the victory, in the end, that's all that matters."

Agreed but if the Ravens continue to turn in fourth quarter performances like they have over the past two weeks against better teams, in the end they won’t walk away with victories and THAT matters too.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ravens Exposed...Billick's Driving Impaired in Red Zone


There are many who are concerned that the Ravens defense has been exposed. With Trevor Pryce on the shelf for what looks like the next four games, the Ravens are struggling to generate a pass rush from their front four. The primary objectives of a Rex Ryan defense have always been to create pressure on the quarterback and disguise their coverages. Until the Ravens figure out a way to get to the quarterback with their down linemen, it’s possible that you might see a more basic approach from the Ravens.

Two weeks ago the young Kellen Clemens had his way with the Ravens during a stressful fourth quarter. This past Sunday, Kurt Warner the grizzled veteran who many had sent down the dusty trail and towards the sunset, carved up the Ravens defense much like he did during the 1999 season when he led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory.

The Ravens have six sacks on the season, all but one of them credited to a defensive back. Last year as the league’s No. 1 defense the Ravens had 60 sacks. So far in ’07 they are on pace to take down the quarterback just 32 times. The lack of pressure places an added burden on the Ravens secondary and so far, outside of the steady play of Chris McAlister, they haven’t been up to the task.

Making matters worse for the Ravens is the no-huddle offense. The Ravens employ many situational substitution packages and they are hoping to offset at least in part the loss of Pryce by rotating Dwan Edwards and Antwan Barnes depending upon down and distance. Moreover the strength of the Ravens linebacker corps is neutralized in a no-huddle because players like Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and Jarret Johnson are forced into playing the pass much more. Clearly all of them are better at or around the line of scrimmage.

The Ravens will need to adjust and thankfully the schedule makers were merciful early in the season. The Browns, 49ers, Rams and Bills are hardly offensive juggernauts and they could be the best medicine the Ravens defense could ask for by the time they reach the very challenging part of their schedule just after their bye on October 28.

Offensively the Ravens continue to struggle in the red zone. Where most teams seem to have success running the ball to the outside in the red zone and throwing to the inside, the Ravens do just the opposite without success. Through three games they are better than only nine other teams in the red zone despite having played defenses that rank 29th (Bengals), 27th (Jets) and 13th (Cardinals).

Last year after six games and the bye, Brian Billick took away the keys to the Ravens offense from Jim Fassel. Perhaps it’s time Billick hands those same keys over to Rick Neuheisel. Considering all of the talent the Ravens have on offense, clearly Billick’s driving is impaired in the red zone.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

VIDEOGATE: It just got a bit more interesting...


From day one, Roger Goodell has responded swiftly and with a heavy hand upon any actions that undermine the integrity of the NFL. He wasted little time issuing severe punishments to NFL bad boys Messrs. Jones, Henry, Johnson and Vick.

In each of those situations he left little time for speculation on how he might deal with these apparent punks. Yet the swiftness in which he swooped down and annihilated these clear and present dangers to the NFL pales in comparison to his decisiveness in “Videogate.”

On the real opening day of the NFL season, just two weeks ago, the New England Patriots were caught red-handed. They were busted for illegally taping the Jets’ coaches on the sidelines and when the league collected the evidence against the new “America’s Team” it had to have been grossly damning. In less than twelve days the cameras, equipment, tapes, discs, etc. were all collected and analyzed, the punishment was handed down and then the evidence was destroyed.

But why destroy the evidence? Couldn’t the NFL find a safe place in their vault next to their billions to store the equipment in the event something else surfaced regarding Videogate? Of course they could have but they didn’t and their failure to preserve this evidence screams – COVER UP!

Goodell certainly couldn’t allow his NFL darlings to tarnish their reputation any more now could he? The Patriots bring it all for the NFL. They draw from a huge market, their fan base is very solid, they have a profitable stadium that draws corporate money from the blue bloods of Boston and they are led on the field by an All-American boy who has a supermodel on one arm and an actress on the other.

Why would Goodell want to mess that up?

The answer of course is he doesn’t want to, hence the destruction of the evidence.

What if the evidence submitted suggested cheating on a much grander scale – like say the Super Bowl? The Patriots have three Super Bowl wins to their credit and all wins were by a field goal. Could those tapes be worth 3 points per game on the biggest sporting stage in America?

No, Goodell wasn’t going to let this multi-billion dollar business sink like Enron. He did what he had to. In less than two weeks he identified the culprit, locked them in on his scope, detonated his weapon and permanently extinguished a potential major calamity.

In the big picture, Goodell and the owners he represents will likely view the destruction of the Videogate evidence as nothing more than collateral damage. But as the dust settles from the powers of Goodell’s own weapons of mass destruction, we are all left to speculate.

Is their more evidence? Did the Patriots save some and will they continue to use it? Given such a light penalty and the upside provided by the cheating, will the Patriots continue to cheat? Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? Did The Beatles really fan the flames of the “Paul is Dead” rumors? Why was the Orioles game on August 14, 1997 really cancelled?

Chances are the speculation will never amount to anything more than idle pub room chatter – chatter that I’m sure to be engaged in at some point in the not so distant future.

But until then, I’m going to queue up “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey” on The Beatles White Album and play it backwards. I’m sure there are some Videogate clues there.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ravens & Suggs: Stare Down at the Poker Table


Terrell Suggs and the Ravens are competing in a high stakes game of poker. It’s always interesting to see who blinks first when a player is playing in the final year of his contract, particularly a player of Suggs’ caliber.

After Sunday the Ravens will have completed 19% of their regular season. Terrell Suggs will be 19% closer to testing the free agent market – one that was very generous in the ’07 offseason.

I’ve never played professional sports so I can’t exactly relate to what goes on in the mind of a professional player. Knowing that the big payday is no less than six months away, does it affect the way a player prepares, the way he plays or the way he carries out his assignments within the confines of the game plan?

The Ravens have seen some big names fall to injury already in this very young season. Might that factor into the way Suggs plays?

While Suggs has developed into a well-rounded Pro Bowler, his reputation is that of a pass rushing specialist. What if after four or five games Suggs still doesn’t have a sack? Might he begin pressing knowing that those sacks will pay dividends if he remains a free agent in March? Could he abandon his coverage assignment and simply go after the quarterback with the hope of tallying a sack?

During The Hot Sauce with Bart Scott this week, I asked Bart about that. Bart said in so many words that there are athletes that might do such things and sacrifice the good of the team for personal gain. But he added that Terrell Suggs is hardly such a selfish player.

Bart has often discussed with me the team first philosophy that the Ravens defenders willingly embrace. He credits his tackles to Kelly Gregg. He’s credited his sacks to Trevor Pryce. And he’s described Suggs as a player that is taking on double teams which has enabled blitzing defensive backs to come in untouched to pick up sacks.

Earlier in Tuesday’s Hot Sauce, Bart semi-jokingly said, “Women lie, men lie, but the numbers don’t lie.”

So I asked if after a few games Suggs doesn’t have the numbers in the sack department that will pay dividends how might that be perceived?

Bart’s answer was simple and direct.

“We know.”

No one has to sell the Ravens on his value to their team.

So it’s about team with the Ravens – the greatest good for the greatest number. But that might not help T-Sizzle in March.

It’s certainly an interesting dilemma for Suggs and the Ravens, one that will become increasingly more interesting if Suggs fails to register the sack numbers that he’s accustomed to – the sack numbers that are cashed in like chips won at the poker table.

Brian Billick is Naive?


Brian Billick without a doubt can come off as crass and arrogant. Often when speaking in a public forum he can appear condescending and part of his objective at times appears to be to establish superiority over his audience.

That is Billick’s public persona.

But that isn’t Brian Billick.

The man obviously is passionate about his job. He also looks after his players and is continually aware of keeping them healthy both in mind and body. He treats them like men and not high school athletes. He understands that his players have to have lives outside of football and by enabling and encouraging those interests they aren’t stale and they are more attentive when he does command their time.

He gets it. This is where Billick shines. It’s this kind of treatment that may influence a Trevor Pryce to pick Baltimore and a Terrell Suggs to stay.

A crass and arrogant individual doesn’t do the things that Billick does for his players. A crass and arrogant man wouldn’t give a rat’s you know what.

But he does care.

The trouble is he doesn’t let many others see that side of him. What they do see and hear is a man who regularly talks down to those questioning his oftentimes questionable decisions. He talks to them as though they haven’t earned the right to ask such questions. So when you seemingly hold yourself in higher regard and you publicly adopt a know-it-all attitude, you open yourself to a ton of criticism.

Recently Billick complained about the Jets mimicking Kyle Boller’s cadence at the line of scrimmage and in doing so Eric Mangini and his already sullied reputation within some league circles got a little dirtier.

"[The Jets] did an outstanding job, their defensive line and linebackers, of simulating the snap count. They did it the whole game long.

"It needs to be caught. That's not an excuse, but it is illegal. Our guys had to deal with it. It sounds like an excuse, but it was a fact. I don't know how to help my guys with that. You can't yell out the snap count."

After Mangini called Billick to discuss the issue, Billick then offered a public apology:

"I apologize for being that naive," Billick said. "I kind of get myself bunkered in and had no idea it created that. Those that misinterpreted it, I apologize if it was me.

“Those that did so purposefully have their own agenda. I have huge respect for the man and I feel badly if someone's been put in that position that I created a little difficulty for him because he did not deserve that."

Billick naïve?

Are you buying that? Everything the man does has a purpose and then to blame others who “have their own agenda?” C’mon Coach!

While removing blame from Mangini, Billick was quick to redirect it.

"I was being critical of the officiating," Billick said. "It had nothing to do with Eric Mangini. I was more upset that they were doing it better than we were. We all do it. The official usually gets on it right away and stops it.”

Ch-ching. Fed Ex envelope for Brian Billick from the NFL offices in New York.

Just what the Ravens need while they are struggling with penalties – more scrutiny from the officials.

Someone who wasn’t that popular with officials to begin with; someone that the officials likely view as crass and arrogant already is now probably considered to be even more crass and arrogant.

You think the yellow laundry will once again litter the Ravens side of the football?

Ravens Defense Built on Talent and Trust


Ravens defenders will tell you that their defense is built on talent and trust. Even casual observers of the team would note that the Ravens don’t really have a conventional base defense. Rex Ryan has taken the collection of athletes provided to him courtesy of Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and his protégés and he places them in position to maximize their unique skill sets all within the parameters of the organized chaos called the Ravens defense.

When talking to Ravens defenders, they will tell you that Rex has entrusted his players to make choices on the fly even if such choices are reduced to complex decision making models like rock-paper-scissors.

I’m not kidding! Just ask Ed Reed and Bart Scott.

Rex may make a certain defensive call and within that call there are 11 sets of responsibilities. Haloti Ngata might be assigned a particular gap that he needs to collapse. How he does it is up to him. That’s why you often see him or Kelly Gregg re-positioning themselves pre-snap. Rex will simply mimic Larry the Cable Guy and say, “Git ‘er done!”

Trust is earned. Trust takes time. And trust works for Rex Ryan & Co.

One might then wonder why Brian Billick doesn’t do the same on offense. But offense is an altogether different animal. Timing and coordination is essential and to stay one step ahead of the defense the quarterback needs to deliver the ball on time and that means before a receiver breaks.

Or the quarterback needs to recognize coverages and defensive alignments and check out of plays that are destined for failure based upon the alignment presented pre-snap. Demetrius Williams can’t alter the depth of his route, particularly if the quarterback plans on delivering the football to a spot that the receiver needs to get to at a particular time.

One thing the Ravens offense could do a better job of is attacking an opponent’s weak link. The Ravens don’t run Vince Lombardi’s offense. They aren’t proficient enough at anything to say, “We’re running it left, now come and stop us.” They can’t dictate the game that way. It has to be like war and they have to attack the weak flank. Force the opponent to provide reinforcements to the weak link and then that opens things up elsewhere.

You can expect Ravens opponents to attack their weak link. Teammates are quick to defend Samari Rolle and they will tell you that the Ravens style of defensive play places an added burden on their corners. Those teammates will tell you that Rolle is one of the best at what he does.

Even if you buy what his teammates are selling when it comes to Rolle, relatively speaking he is the weak link and if I’m Ken Whisenhunt and/or Matt Lienart come Sunday, the No. 22 to me looks, walks and talks like a big fat bullseye.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Sky Isn't Falling...Not Yet!


Yesterday I received a couple of emails asking me why I've adopted "the sky is falling" stance as it relates to the Ravens. The truth be told, I don't see the sky falling around Brian Billick's troops. I want anything but that to happen. The position I've taken in my blog and in the Ravens Report Card is simply that of a concerned fan.

Why stick your head in the sand and pretend that the problems the Ravens continue to have on offense don't exist and that they will magically go away?

One of the best things a team can do for itself is to scout itself. Do they have tendencies that provide clues to an opponent? Might an offensive lineman stand a bit differently when a pass play is called? Does Kyle Boller extend his hands while in the shotgun just before the snap?

To me pointing out problems is a positive thing. I want the problems corrected. I want the team to win. I want the Ravens to put away opponents when they have them on the ropes.

I don't want what I saw on Sunday.

The Ravens have far too much talent to perform like they have on offense.

I'm tired of it.

You should be tired of it.

I found it interesting that Jim Fassel was the analyst for the national radio broadcast of the Ravens v. Jets game on Sunday. Although he would probably never admit it, the Ravens offensive showing during the second half had to at least force the corners of his mouth to curl upwards in a semi-Cheshire Cat grin.

The Ravens are being penalized at a pace that would exceed the most penalized team in the league during the 2006 season. Regarding the Ravens unusually high number of penalties so far in ’07, Brian Billick had this to say on Monday.

"You have to look at the nature of the penalties. First off, the fact that we had 11 penalties and [the Jets] only had two and we dominated the game.

"I have a hard time understanding that the team that was playing so well and dominating had so many penalties and the other team had only two.''

Sorry Brian but this sounds a bit like a mild case of denial.

The first step towards fixing a problem is admitting you have one. The Ravens have been sloppy since the second preseason game. Yellow laundry has regularly littered the Ravens side of the ball.

Oh and the last time I checked, dominant teams don't almost let 17 point leads slip away at home against a quarterback making his first career start.

No the sky isn't falling at 1-1.

But the Ravens better fix some things before it does.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ravens Offense is the Same Old Song and Dance


They say it’s not how you start in the NFL, it’s how you finish. Ravens fans only need to look back to the 2000 season for proof. Back then the Ravens hit a stretch when they didn’t score a touchdown for twenty-one consecutive quarters and found themselves staring at a 5-4 record. Yet somehow, they got it together, caught lightning in a bottle thanks to a stellar defense and drove that bolt through the hearts of helpless opponents that had no answer for Ray Lewis & Co.

The Ravens final record that season was 16-4.

Despite a reputation as an offensive guru, Brian Billick relied heavily on his defense in 2000 and that is something that hasn’t changed 7 seasons later. The Ravens have gone through quarterbacks like the Orioles go through relief pitchers and like the O’s pen the Ravens offense is still searching for answers.

This off-season the Ravens were very open about their determined effort to improve the running game and to be more explosive offensively. Yet through two games the offense really doesn’t look much different than the one Jim Fassel coordinated during the first six games of ’06. And that offense didn’t look much different than the one that Matt Cavanaugh guided for more years than we care to remember.

The one constant through all the years of offensive struggles is Brian Billick.

Last week the Ravens moved the ball decently against the Cincinnati Bengals. Of course they were very generous with the ball, handing it over to Marvin Lewis’ boys 6 times. But was the offensive performance against the Bengals a ray of hope or just poor play by Cincinnati?

Yesterday the Cleveland Browns led by the great Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis had 554 net yards of offense against the Bengals. Anderson had five touchdown passes and Lewis ran for 215 yards on 28 carries.

The Patriots had 431 yards of net offense against the Jets in New York. Yesterday the Ravens’ offense tallied 303 net yards at home but managed only 98 in the second half when they had the Jets on the ropes and ready to cave.

The Ravens are clearly not in the same league as the Patriots offensively. But the scary thing is they don’t even appear to be in the same league as the Browns.

If you watch the Ravens pass patterns, check down options appear to be limited. On the Ravens first play from scrimmage in the second half, Kyle Boller launched a deep pass down the right sideline towards Demetrius Williams. Williams was surrounded by three defenders. How is it that Mark Clayton (a receiver that some in the organization pegged for 100 catches in '07) has only 1 catch for minus 1 yard through two games?

What do the Ravens do on first down no less, that tips what they might be doing? How does Williams draw coverage from three defenders on first and ten? How does that not leave someone else on the field open for the Ravens?

If you watch other teams run the football, pick any team, there seems to be so much more space for backs to navigate than Willis McGahee had yesterday. And I’m wondering why. Why is it that a seemingly washed up Jamal Lewis partnered with a relatively inexperienced Derek Anderson can pile up over 200 yards on the ground against Cincinnati while the Ravens abandon the run despite an ailing quarterback in Steve McNair?

McGahee has enjoyed success against the Jets in the recent past despite operating behind a suspect Bills offensive line. Last year he rushed for 150 yards on 26 carries in a 28-20 loss in September and then in December he had 125 yards on 16 carries in a 31-13.

During the previous season, he rushed for 143 and 113 yards against New York.

Isn’t the Ravens offensive line supposed to be better? Don’t the Ravens have more offensive weapons than the Bills?

Is it the system? Is it the play design? Maybe it’s the play calling or the blocking schemes? Perhaps the inability to make in-game adjustments?

Is it all of the above?

Whatever the problem is, the Ravens better fix it over the next couple of weeks against the Cardinals and Browns. If not they will never advance during the playoffs. They will again lean too much on the defense and they’ll be one and done in the post season – just like last season.

Assuming of course they get that far.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ravens QB of the Future?

Many still believe that Byron Leftwich is a player that would look good in Ravens’ purple. Don’t count me among them – at least not in 2007. Leftwich is regarded as a prototypical pocket passer with a big wind up. Mix that in with an offensive line that hasn’t yet gelled, a lack of mobility and an unfamiliarity with Brian Billick’s offense and it adds up to little productivity.

Extending Kyle Boller was a smart move by the organization because it buys them another year to develop Troy Smith as a back-up. That said there are some within the organization who believe than none of the current quarterbacks is the team’s QB of the future. Don’t be surprised to see the Ravens use a first day pick in the 2008 draft to get their signal caller for years to come.

A team that will be down one first day pick in next year’s draft is the New England Patriots. Described by many as a modern day dynasty, The Patriots will now have to deal with a sullied reputation. Their accomplishments as a team and those of individual players like Tom Brady might be labeled with a Barry Bonds-like asterisk.

Over the years Belichick has earned a reputation for making outstanding halftime adjustments. Now those adjustments seem more like the equivalent of peaking at an opponent’s hand at the poker table. Is he still the genius or just a cheater?

"I was giving them a whole bunch of credit for making halftime adjustments [during Super Bowl XXXIX]. . . . It's troublesome," safety Brian Dawkins said earlier this week. "I don't know how different to say it -- it bothers me."

Some have said that the sanctions levied against Belichick and the Patriots aren’t severe enough. Others have said the punishment far outweighs the crime.

Let’s face it, Belichick has undermined the integrity of the game. What if during the first half of a game the Patriots collected the data (video of defensive signals) and then studied it at halftime? What if they then observed the same defensive signals during the second half of games and relayed the data to Tom Brady?

To take it further, let’s assume Brady is running a no-huddle offense, surveys the field and sees the safeties lining up in a Cover 2 which is confirmed by the stolen signals and then delivered to his radio-equipped helmet. Can a pre-snap read get any better than that? Brady now knows exactly where to deliver the football and calls the appropriate play from the shotgun.

It might not be the reason why Tom Brady went from a sixth round draft pick to a repeat Super Bowl MVP, but it sure does make you wonder now, doesn’t it?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ravens Need to Know When to Hold 'Em...When to Fold 'Em


It’s interesting that Ray Lewis’ so called “camp” has reported that Ray played Monday Night with a torn triceps. The Ravens organization places supreme confidence in its medical staff – one that would never put one of its athletes at risk no matter how determined the player is to play. Even if that player is Ray Lewis.

I find it very unlikely that Ray’s triceps is torn – at the very least not the same part of the arm that almost immediately sidelines every player who suffers such a tear. Ray is a pretty tough guy and without question he’s a warrior and a gladiator. But Superman he is not. A torn triceps is Kryptonite to any football player.

That said, clearly Ray was in obvious pain. When he was hit with the deserved horse collar tackle penalty, Ray looked up at the official like a kid with his hand in an off limits cookie jar. It was the only thing that Ray could do to bring down Rudi Johnson and at that very moment I wondered if No. 52 was down for no less than the night and possibly a lot longer.

But Ray stuck it out and in doing so he sent a message to his teammates. They banded together and eventually held the Bengals vaunted offense to 236 total net yards, only 50 of which came after the break. The effort was one originating from the heart. Rex Ryan’s unit showed an incredible amount of grit and determination while placing the greater good of the team above that of the defense’s.

I discussed this with Bart Scott on The Hot Sauce with Bart Scott. He said a few interesting things which could factor into the Ravens success later on this season. First Bart said that Ray’s ability to stick it out and fight through the pain was a classic case of leading by example. If the leader of the defense can do it, so too can everyone else.

Bart also said that through his willingness to play through the pain, as the leader of the defense Ray earned the right to encourage an injured teammate to do the same.

I also wondered how the Ravens defense could continually refrain from pointing the finger at a consistently inconsistent and frustrating offense. In so many words Bart said, “That’s what we do!”

But we don’t go for 2 ~ There has been some speculation that if Todd Heap’s touchdown nullified by offensive pass interference had counted, Brian Billick was preparing his team to go for 2 to win the football game. Conventional wisdom suggests that you play for the win on the road and the tie at home.

Those conventional wise men are obviously not familiar with the Ravens lack of success in short yardage situations.

There’s no way I would go for two in that situation. The Ravens aren’t exactly a well oiled machine when it comes to two point conversions. They are more like the tin man after a rain storm.

You take the tie in that situation and then you let the Ravens defense continue punching Carson Palmer’s offense square in the mouth just as they had for the previous 29 minutes of the second half. Keep in mind that Bengals’ kicker Shayne Graham was a bit banged up too.

Forget that deuce – I’d put my money on Ray & Co. and the leg of Matt Stover well before an offense that has scored a grand total of one touchdown over the past three meaningful games.

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.
Photo by Sabina Moran

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Balance is the Key for Ravens Offense


You can question the Ravens sloppy offensive play against the Bengals and you can question Brian Billick’s play calling, particularly at the end of the game. But you can never question the heart and resolve of the 2007 Baltimore Ravens.

Now that we’ve all taken a deep breath and exhaled, it’s time that we actually appreciate what the Ravens did and not condemn them for what they didn’t do.

The Ravens defense held the prolific Bengals offense to 50 yards in the second half. They beat the Bengals up. Carson Palmer has enjoyed success against the Ravens in the past. It’s not that way any more. Something happened in that game last November. Take away the gadget play for a score and the Bengals did little. Rex Ryan has them figured out and Palmer knows it. He feels it.

You can see it in his hurried throws to open receivers out of the backfield or in the flat. The Ravens moved him off his mark and he was rattled.

You can see it in the faces of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson. They weren’t yapping and showboating with their usual animated gestures. They were subdued. They were in mute. They were swagger-less.

That’s what happens when you get punched in the mouth.

And you can rest assured – this will carry over and the scales will begin to tip towards the Ravens in this one-sided rivalry of late. They already have.

Look, this is game 1 of the season. It’s the first turn in a 16 lap race.

If the Ravens win their next 3 how much will those 6 turnovers matter then?

You could make the argument that those turnovers were a blessing in disguise. Perhaps they will serve as a wake up call to an offense that has been comatose during the last three meaningful games including the playoff loss to the Colts and the season finale against the Bills.

They better!

This offseason the Ravens invested in the offensive line and in the backfield to improve upon their 25th ranked rushing attack from a year ago. Brian Billick stressed the importance of a balanced attack yet judging from game 1, that philosophy has not manifested itself in the play calling. On Monday the Ravens chucked it 40 times and ran it 25 times.

The balance is important, particularly to Steve McNair.

During his best years in Tennessee, McNair was supported by a solid rushing attack led by Eddie George. George was versatile and he could also catch the ball out of the backfield. He was the perfect complement to McNair’s game. There’s no reason that Willis McGahee can’t provide the same.

The question is even with McGahee can McNair be the same?

Over the course of the most recent three games that actually mattered, McNair’s QB rating has averaged 61.4. During those games he has thrown for a total of 592 yards without a TD pass to go with four interceptions – all of this against teams that were ranked 18th, 21st and 30th in 2006 in total defense.

And let’s not forget those three fumbles.

Can McNair turn it around? Probably provided he is healthy enough. If he’s not then the Ravens will be forced to turn to Kyle Boller.

Regardless of which quarterback is in, balance is key for the Ravens. It just sets up their offense that much better. If McNair goes, expect defenses to come after him much like the maligned Bengals defense did. He will be no threat to run with the groin injury. If Boller goes, he has never shown the ability to step up in the pocket to buy time. He’ll bail and throw missiles into the seats to avoid a sack.

Unless of course the Ravens get that running game “cranked up” as Brian Billick might say.

They need to establish an identity. There’s little reason to believe that McNair or Boller can put the offense on their backs and lead the team to victory. There’s no recent compelling evidence to support such a notion.

But then again, the season is just one game old.

Let’s see how they handle lap number two.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

RAVENS V. BENGALS...the good, the bad, the ugly


After all of the offseason conditioning, the organized team activities, training camp and the preseason games designed to ready a team for opening day, the Ravens a team that offered up so much promise after a sharp preseason opener against the Eagles, suddenly look more like a team in chaos than one ready to defend its AFC North Championship.

To make matters worse, the team left Cincinnati with a lengthy and significant list of battered bodies that will force the team to turn to their bench as they prepare for the home opener against the N.Y. Jets.

Much of the pre-game drama centered upon Jonathan Ogden and his famous big left toe. After practicing most of the week leading into the game, Ogden declared himself ready and decided to give it a go. It didn’t last long as Ogden hobbled to the sidelines early in the second quarter.

During the first quarter in the contest Ray Lewis injured his right triceps after he and Chris McAlister converged to stop Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Lewis fought through the injury and finished the game despite playing in severe pain. Lewis later said that the triceps was torn while team officials have described it as a strain.

The key injuries didn’t stop there.

Steve McNair injured his groin after being tackled following an incomplete pass downfield. The injury prevented McNair from stepping into his throws, one of which sailed over a wide open Derrick Mason on third and one resulting in a game changing interception.

B.J. Sams went down with what has been described as a serious knee injury. Early indications are that Sams has torn an ACL. Paul Brown Stadium has certainly not been kind to the Ravens return specialist.

Daniel Wilcox’ ankle injury flared up again as he was taken off the field and seen using crutches following the physical contest.

Any loss is tough but this one may linger for quite some time.

Now for the good, the bad and the ugly…


Injuries, Turnovers & Bad Play Calling Doom Ravens


Wow, could that game have been any uglier? Could the players have played with any more heart?

The Ravens committed six turnovers and they collected two – officially. The fumble recovery at the end of the first half as time expired shouldn’t even count as a turnover but according to NFL statisticians it does. In my book the Ravens were minus 5 in the turnover department and when that happens and you face Carson Palmer, it’s a minor miracle that they even had a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation.

Oh, excuse me…they did tie it but some overzealous and inept zebra who needs to reacquaint himself with the cardinal rules of officiating, threw a flag on Todd Heap for simply disengaging from the bump of a defender.

What a joke!

As an official you never want to be the difference in the game when it comes down to the wire. The clown in Cincy apparently missed that officiating class. Need proof...here it is

Thankfully the kids weren’t around after that play because the f-bombs were flying from my mouth like 737’s at O’Hare.

That said I have to rewind to the play selection leading up to that point, just prior to Boller's pass to Heap.

Despite running the ball effectively, Brian Billick abandoned it. That is the second consecutive meaningful game that he showed very little patience establishing the run. Chris Chester and Marshall Yanda (when he wasn’t forgetting the snap count) had asserted themselves on the right side and Jason Brown proved that he could pull from left to right and create havoc on the suspect Bengals’ front seven. Willis McGahee had a feel and he had good body lean, accumulating yards in small spaces while falling forward.

This was the Cincinnati freakin' Bengals for crying out loud. If you can't run on the Bengals, who can you run on?

Marvin Lewis’ defense dared the Ravens to run. They sold out on the run and committed to the pass while sending untouched linebackers after Steve McNair. The situation was begging for delays, and draws and screens to temper the pass rush – a pass rush hell bent on protecting a secondary that was rather clueless. Yet Billick was stubborn. He lacked confidence in the run and it cost him his quarterback.

It’s one thing to lose a tough game to a division rival. It’s another to give one away and then leave Cincinnati with a devastating injury list that includes Ray Lewis (possible torn triceps), Steve McNair (ribs, groin?), Jonathan Ogden (chronic turf toe) and Daniel Wilcox (ankle).

The loss was bad enough. The residual affects of this game threatens the Ravens’ season.

It’s now time for the Ravens’ depth to step up and earn their paychecks. The team’s collective resolve will be tested.

It's hard to imagine a worse way to start the season.

Monday, September 10, 2007

SUNDAYS ARE FOR FOOTBALL...NOT MONDAYS


Save me a seat on the bandwagon of fans who hate their team playing on Monday Night Football. Nothing against the staple of Americana but for me Sunday is for football. I prefer old school 1:00PM starts (some really old school may remember the 2:00PM starts in Baltimore due to an obsolete blue law). Let’s take care of business early!

The only redeeming quality of my team playing on MNF is that I can without a doubt enjoy all of the other games scheduled on Sunday. You see if the Ravens lay an egg early on Sunday, I’m just not feeling the rest of the league. I don’t care who plays, when they play and how they play. I want to kick the TV in during ESPN’s highlights when the Ravens hang one in the “L” column. Watching NFL games after a Ravens loss is the equivalent of taking on atomic Buffalo wings while suffering from acid indigestion.

Please pass the Pepto.

Watching games on TV is an altogether different experience than taking them in at The Vault. For some unexplained reason, I morph into some altered life form when watching the Ravens on TV. I’m not sure if the peer pressure of thousands around me influences better behavior at the stadium or perhaps it’s the threat of being ejected by Safe Management if I become intolerable when sitting in my comfy purple seat.

But put me in front of a TV at a pub, a friend’s house or at home and I become a raving lunatic.

Don’t touch the remote; don’t move from that lucky spot; move from that unlucky spot; did I wear pink the last time the Ravens lost; where’s my lucky underwear; those chips have bad mojo; for crying out loud can they just open up the offense and can someone please hand me my straightjacket?

Is it just me?

I know many of you are worried about this game tonight and I can’t really blame you. The Ravens have done little to dispel the notion that they will once again have to ride the backs of their defense. The preseason did little to quiet this song in my head that keeps playing whenever I hear Ravens fans complaining about their team:

It’s the same old song and, same old song and dance…

I’ve had the luxury of watching the Ravens practice every day during summer camp. I’ve had the privilege of talking to various players and coaches. And I can tell you that they haven’t stuck their collective head in the sand. They know that to advance beyond a first round exit in the playoffs that the offense must step up.

And I think they will.

Against the Steelers in ’06 the Ravens attacked. They took shots down the field, opened up their playbook and pummeled their bitter rivals to the tune of 51-7 over the course of two games. They took the lead and forced their opponent into being one dimensional. If the Ravens’ defense knows that the opposing offense has to pass, watch out. Just ask Ben Roethlisberger.

You know the coaches know this. You know that they are tired of hearing about the ineptitude of their offense. You know they want to shut us all up.

And you know what? I think they will.

Some might say that the preseason gave us no hints that anything will change. Others will argue that the Ravens can’t just flip a switch and all the sloppy play will go away and that they’ll suddenly start executing efficiently.

The thing you need to keep in mind is that the Ravens won’t just be flipping a switch. They’ve practiced efficiently and effectively in the privacy of One Winning Drive when they weren’t committing false starts and illegal formations during preseason games. To them, it isn’t about flipping a switch. It’s about carrying over their success from the practice field on to the turf at Paul Brown Stadium tonight.

I’m not expecting a masterpiece. I’m expecting the Ravens to win a Ravens kind of game.

Just remember that the preseason is a mirage. The preseason is a lie. It distorts the truth because of the converging and oftentimes conflicting objectives when teams take the field in the preseason. Just ask the Saints who looked like an offensive juggernaut in the preseason only to sputter when it counted.

In won’t exactly be pretty. I won’t exactly be easy. But in the end it will be exactly what we all want – a win against a tough division rival on the road.

I know it and you want to believe it.

Yet despite this knowledge somehow, I’m sure I’ll be morphing into that lunatic somewhere around 7:01PM tonight. If you are at Lagers Pub tonight, beware…

But at the end of the night I'll be smiling at a 19-13 Ravens win.

You feelin' me?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Boller Blinks and Signs Extension


Yesterday in my column I suggested that Ozzie Newsome was playing chess and that the pawns were Kyle Boller and Byron Leftwich. ESPN’s John Clayton reported yesterday that if Boller didn’t accept the extension Ozzie offered, Leftwich would become a Raven by Tuesday.

Ozzie not only got Boller and his agent David Dunn to blink, he had them looking like starry-eyed girls batting their eyes at Justin Timberlake.

The one year extension is said to be worth just north of $3 million which puts Boller in the per annum neighborhood of David Carr who signed with the Panthers this past offseason for 2 years at $6.2 million.

Count me among those that are surprised that Boller pulled out his signing Sharpie so quickly. I think he had the leverage. I think Ozzie knew it and I think Leftwich’s name was kicked around to influence the exact result that Ozzie obtained.

Count this one Ozzie 1, Boller/Dunn 0.

Of course the other winner in this chess match is Troy Smith. Had the Ravens signed Leftwich, Smith would have been the odd man. Despite having a poor summer camp and preseason, Smith would not have passed waivers in order to eventually land on the Ravens’ practice squad. Smith has pedigree, great mobility, a strong arm, leadership qualities and he is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

Boller’s extension allows Rick Neuheisel to work with Smith for two seasons before the Ravens are forced to determine whether or not Smith can be a solid back-up or possibly a serviceable starter.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

T. Pryce: "I almost retired!"


On Tuesday night Bart Scott’s first guest for our Hot Sauce with Bart Scott was Trevor Pryce. Trevor to say the least is an interesting guy with a unique way of observing, assessing and acting upon the circumstances surrounding him.

Clearly he does that very well on the football field. But his perspectives of the game and of the world in general viewed from the vantage point of a savvy veteran player of the games of football and life, affords him the luxury of efficiency. And that efficiency provides shortcuts to results the way that speed provides shortcuts to the more youthful but less experienced players.

Trevor has been a Denver Bronco for all but one plus seasons of his professional career. He’s played for only two head coaches, Mike Shanahan and obviously Brian Billick. Before being released by the Broncos in 2006, Pryce considered retirement. Much like Tiki Barber who decided to retire because Tom Coughlin took the fun out of football for him, Shanahan was dealing the same cards to Pryce in Denver. His perspective became that of a player ready to hang up the click-clack of his cleats.

“I was like [Tiki Barber] in Denver”, said Pryce. “I almost retired. If I had to play one more year in Denver I would have retired.”

It’s interesting that Pryce would share such thoughts the night before The Sun printed an article in which the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive end says, “Now I'm [in Baltimore], and I'm thinking, 'I might have another five years in me.' They take care of me, they make sure that I'm ready for Sunday, and that's what you've got to do."

Clearly Pryce’s career has been rejuvenated here in The Land of Pleasant Living. During Bart’s show, he described Mike Shanahan’s team as a Cuban detention center when compared to a Brian Billick team. Pryce shares that experience, that wisdom if you will with his younger teammates.

“I’ve told them, ‘Play as hard as you can for [Billick] because the grass is black on the other side.’”

Billick’s philosophies on coaching and managing his players and team helped to resuscitated Pryce’s career. But thanks to the Ravens’ organization and what Bart Scott described as the unstoppable slap-rip move that commands the attention of two blockers, Pryce is back to Pro Bowl life-form – one that was nearly choked to death in the Mile High City.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Exit Stage Leftwich


"At this point, we have had a couple of small conversations, but that's been the extent of [the Byron Leftwich discussions]," Ozzie Newsome said.

And with those few words the Ravens’ acclaimed GM and EVP ripped open a brand new can of big fat juicy worms.

At this point we’ve all been repeatedly reminded that the Ravens tried to swing a deal with the Minnesota Vikings back in 2003 to move up and draft the big gunslinger from Marshall. But those efforts were thwarted by the Jacksonville Jaguars and a rather suspicious phone call that left Ozzie asking over and over, “Can you hear me now?”

Some things happen for reasons and I would take Terrell Suggs any day of the week over Byron Leftwich. Thankfully Sizzle happened that day albeit by default.

Leftwich has been a disappointment just like his draft class alum Kyle Boller. Neither has fulfilled the promise that their respective physical tools would suggest and now one of them is a free agent and the other is six months away from joining him.

If nothing else Leftwich’s release is very curious. He really hasn’t been that bad enough to warrant an outright release with an overall QB rating of 80.5 to go with 51 TD passes and 36 INT’s while starting n 44 of the 46 games he’s played in. Given the investment in Leftwich and given that David Garrard isn’t exactly a household name Leftwich’s release is a bit of a surprise.

Now it’s no secret that Leftwich and Jags’ head coach Jack Del Rio aren’t exactly bosom buddies. But then again, Del Rio isn’t exactly a regular dinner companion of Jags’ owner Wayne Weaver. A bad season in Jacksonville could push Del Rio straight towards the unemployment line.

The point is, Del Rio needs a good season and to have one, you want to field the best team possible. With the opportunity costs for Del Rio so great, would he allow his personal feelings to influence his personnel feelings?

You also have to ask if Jags’ GM Shack Harris (who by the way has a terrific relationship with Ozzie Newsome) would allow Del Rio’s strained relationship with Leftwich to steer Harris’ personnel moves. Don’t you think there’s something more to this story? Don’t the teams that have a player on their roster know a little more about them than those of us on the outside looking in?

BUYER BEWARE!

All things being equal, Leftwich is probably a better long-term solution than Boller. The trouble is Leftwich doesn’t have a long-term window. He has short-term needs and those needs clash with the Ravens – at least for now.

More than likely, Leftwich’s agent is looking to steer his client towards a team that is one hit away from Leftwich becoming that team’s starter. I don’t think you have that here in Baltimore – not in 2007.

We’ve heard that Steve McNair hardly mastered the Ravens playbook in 2006 and that was after a partial set of OTA’s and a full training camp. How would the less experienced Leftwich fair in Baltimore with no preparation? One of the knocks against Leftwich is that his reads are slow and that he relies on that big arm to overcome the slow processing speed – and that’s when he knows the offense.

Ah, but you say to bring him on as the No. 3 and risk losing Troy Smith? How might that then affect Boller when he’s called on to lead the team for a couple of games this season? He’s a pretty hyper kinetic guy as it is. Might Leftwich’s presence throw that hyper kinetic field into overdrive?

It’s interesting that Ozzie Newsome even commented at all on Leftwich. Normally you might hear Ozzie say something vague like, “We’re happy with the current status of our quarterbacking situation and we’re focused on the 2007 season.”

But that isn’t what he said. He said he’s had a couple of small conversations.

Things that make you go hmmm…

The bet here is that Leftwich will end up in a place like Atlanta or DC or Tampa where Jon Gruden can’t seem to have enough QB’s. He’ll sign a one year deal and be a good citizen, say all the right things and hope to be productive with his limited opportunities. Then after the season, take in the NFL landscape and see what the offseason brings. Teams have been known to overspend for a quarterback. Just ask the Houston Texans.

As for the Ravens, next year might be the ideal time to discuss Leftwich. Kyle Boller will likely be gone, McNair might have another year or two in the tank and Troy Smith will be protected. Leftwich is from the DC area and one would think that Baltimore would be among his preferred destinations.

Ozzie has shown extreme patience in the past, allowing time and circumstance to work in his favor while remaining emotionally deattached so as to not cloud his good judgment. The bet here is that this time, it will be no different.

Exit stage Leftwich…at least for now.